UC20 in Los Angeles Preview

February 18, 2020 Daren Worcester

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Episode 71 of the Get Connected podcast welcomes Cheryl Fleming from the Sanford School as the Advisory Board co-host, along with Jim Bologna from Windward School and Lisa Taylor from Berkeley Hall School. Veterans of Blackbaud K–12's annual User Conference, our guests offer advice for attending UC20 as well as Los Angeles travel, dining, and entertainment tips.

Get Connected to this discussion by listening to the podcast above, downloading the episode, or listening on iTunes, Google Play, iHeartRadio, or Spotify.

UC20 Preview Quick Notes

Dining Recommendations

Walking distance from the hotel: Au LacDrago Centro, Grand Central MarketL.A. LivePerch.

Catch a ride: Cole's French Dip, Milo & Olive.


Walking distance from the hotel: Grand Central MarketL.A. Live, OUE Skyspace LA, The Broad Museum, Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Things to do with extra vacation time: California Science CenterDisneyland, Hollywood Bowl, La Brea Tar PitsLegends of Hollywood Tours, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)Natural History MuseumNike Tower hike, Peterson Automotive MuseumThe Queen Mary, Santa Monica Pier, The Getty CenterUniversal Studios HollywoodVenice Beach


Cheryl Fleming [Intro]: The wealth of information that I get at UC helps me not only do the website better and use the software that Blackbaud offers better, but it helps me do my job better.

Daren Worcester: Greetings, and welcome back to the Blackbaud K–12 Get Connected podcast. I'm Daren Worcester, and today I'm joined by Cheryl Fleming, who still has my favorite job title in all of the independent schools. She's the director of communications, marketing, and technology at Sanford School. Cheryl, welcome to the podcast. 

Cheryl Fleming: Thanks for having me, Daren. I'm excited to be here. 

Daren Worcester: And we're more excited to have you. So I think I failed the intro a little bit in framing that you are our advisor co-host for this episode. So we're going to be talking about UC20, which is taking place July 8 through 10th in Los Angeles at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, and we've got a couple of guests coming on that we're going to introduce shortly, but they're from the LA area and they're going to give us some travel tips and just all around LA tips.

But, Cheryl, let's talk a little bit first about your experience. Off the top of your head, could you even say how many times you've been to the User Conference? 

Cheryl Fleming: I absolutely can. This will be my tenth UC. 

Daren Worcester: Now, is that really off the top of your head or did you prep it? 

Cheryl Fleming: I did prep it. [Laughing] I said, gosh, how many of these have I attended? And this will be number ten. 

Daren Worcester: Excellent. See, I would have to do some hard thinking. I'm past what I can count on my fingers at this point. It would really throw me off if I got that question. So, ten User Conferences, I think I can remember, you know, seeing you at the early ones that you went to, why do you keep coming back? What do you get out of the conference? 

Cheryl Fleming: Well, you know, I have to say there are three top things that I would say make me really want to come back every year. First, it's the networking and the camaraderie. When you talk about that first UC, Daren, and I don't know if you remember, but I was there before we even had a website.

We had just signed the papers, and I decided that I would go. And I must have looked like a deer in headlights, because so many people came up to me and said, "If you need anything at all, you call me." And these were people from other schools, but the networking and the camaraderie that you have, not only with the Blackbaud folks, but from the colleagues from our other schools, and the exhibitors.

I'm sure people are thinking, but what about the exhibitors? What's so great about that? But one of the things that's happened for us in a couple of different situations, we started some relationships with some really great people and have continued those relationships. And so they perform a lot of professional services for us.

And I've made some friends along the way. It's been really great. I look forward to seeing some of the returning folks who come back every year. I think the next piece that's really important for us is that we're a really lean school, and so we have a few number of people doing a lot of different tasks.

And the wealth of information that I get at UC helps me not only do the website better and use the software that Blackbaud offers better, but it helps me do my job better. And I think our team would agree with me, we have several members who come with me every year. And they would say it's extremely beneficial. Beyond the sessions that are available, I find that so much information is exchanged, whether it's over breakfast or dinner, and there are a lot of meetups that happen after dinner. So you get the benefit of the expertise of a lot of different folks over a relatively short period of time. And I think those are the things that really make me want to come back time after time after time. 

Daren Worcester: I'm glad you said, you know, seeing the people because for me, that's my favorite part of the conference is going and seeing you and others that I've known and worked with over the years and just getting to kind of reconnect every summer. It's great. Now, Cheryl, I know you go to other conferences too, what about the UC for you sticks out as having its own special importance for your school? 

Cheryl Fleming: So much of what we do is tied into what the UC offers. And I think as I said, it goes beyond just the products themselves. I think it makes us better communicators, better technology experts. And I think it's an extremely good value. When I think about what the cost for the event is, it feels like, gee, this seems like a lot, but for what we get, it's such a good value that I don't know that we could replicate that anywhere else. 

Daren Worcester: I'm glad you bring up the cost. So let's, [Laughing] let's talk about that a little bit. Because there are some ways to mitigate the cost a little bit and make it more feasible for schools. So we have our early-bird discount, which is going to be ending April 14. So I would encourage schools to get on that and register before that ends to get the best price available to them. That's going to take $125 off the standard price, which for one ticket may not sound like a lot, but if you're purchasing multiple tickets for multiple people, then it certainly adds up.

Which also brings in mind, we've made our group discount even better this year. I think, part of the feedback that we get every year, and it's my favorite feedback to get because I'm helping put together the programming, is that it's too much. That one person just can't take it all in alone. That schools, you know, really want to send multiple team members and divide and conquer, so we're trying to make that more feasible for them this year. We used to have a buy five, get one free deal on the registration, but now it's buy three get one free. 

Cheryl Fleming: Wow.

Daren Worcester: The one and only trick to it is that you have to sign up, you know, at least four people at once because then when you sign it up the system is smart enough to automatically knock off the pricing for that fourth person. 

Cheryl Fleming: Well, I think the incentives are fantastic and that divide and conquer piece you talk about is something that we very much support. I think we're having five come this year. I know the very first year I came, I was all by myself and I said, "This is ridiculous, there's no way I can cover all of this content by myself." And so from that point on, we have had multiple people attend. 

Daren Worcester: That's great, and, you know, if you just brought three more, you could get two free.

Cheryl Fleming: [Laughing] I'll work on that, Daren.

Daren Worcester: [Laughing] I'd be remiss, too, if I didn't mention another great way to get a discount ticket is to apply to be a speaker at the conference and our call for speakers—the deadline on that is coming up fairly quick, which is going to be March 4.

The success of the conference really depends on thought leaders from our schools, you know, volunteering to come and speak and to share their experiences and their successes and, you know, even their failures, things that "Hey, we tried this, it just didn't work." You know, those are the things that everybody else wants to learn from and we rely on it to put together a great program.

So, we're excited to get people signing up, the discount is pretty big. It's only $400 for a ticket if you're accepted as a speaker, and you can have multiple speakers. So you could have two people from a school speak on a session, and they would both get the discount. So, we're trying to get as many people at the conference as we can and having those things available to them to get in and be a part of the conference and make the costs more affordable is what we're aiming for. 

Cheryl Fleming: I know in the past, we have had folks from Sanford speak, and my understanding is it can kind of be a little bit of a competitive process in so much as i think a lot of people like to take advantage of that discount. So, do you have any tips about what folks should do to have their sessions accepted? 

Daren Worcester: Yeah, absolutely. It is—it can get a little competitive. We try to accept as many as we can, and often—I think last year we ended up getting a lot more rooms in the conference. And, you know, we're able to accept more. It is a balance between having sessions offered twice because people like to do that too so they can go to the different sessions, and bringing in more people and accepting more people. So we've got to play that game a little bit there.

Overall, we try to accept as many as we can, because as I mentioned before, we want to bring as many people. So, some tips for how to get accepted is really to kind of narrow your focus on a specific topic or something that you've done that you can really extrapolate and give good examples for what you've done. You know, we get a lot of people that will submit, especially newer schools that have just come on board, you know, and talking about the process of change management, adopting, you know, new school management system products. We have a whole track for it, so we certainly need sessions for that, but we get a lot of schools that put that in, so you want to try to find something that is unique or something that you can best position yourself as, "Hey, I'm the person that can talk about this. Here's our experience." 

Cheryl Fleming: All right. And so in terms of formatting, I know that over the ten, well I guess it's been nine because this is going to be number ten. Over the years, the UC takes a different format from time to time, anything special planned for this year?

Daren Worcester: Yes and no, in that, the staples that everybody knows and loves that they come for—the training from our BBU team, the best practice sessions, and the unconference are all going to be part of the conference again this year. But we're not looking to roll out the same conference that we had last year either. So there's going to be some new wrinkles in there.

Not really in a place where I can say specifically what things are, but, you know, we're looking at having a keynote speaker this year. We haven't had a keynote speaker for a few years. We've found somebody that we're in talks with right now, so I can't say who it is. It's killing me, because we're really excited about this person but an announcement on that will be coming shortly.

We're also really looking at how we format the conference and are digging into what we're going to do there. Because, over the last few years, we've gotten feedback that, hey, having training on one day was great, but for our more experienced attendees such as yourself that have been using our product for a decade or more, the training, even the advanced training sessions that we offer, weren't necessarily attractive, and people were finding that that day wasn't necessarily a good use of their time.

So, last year, we stepped into adding other content on that day. So we had our Shop Talks, and we had a few best practice tracks. And that went over really well. We get a lot of positive feedback from that. And now we're really looking at it like, should we take another step there? And we're really stress and pressure testing the feasibility of breaking up the training on two days and having best practices concurrent on those two days and we think the benefit to that is we'll be able to have more duplicate sessions.

So people don't feel the pressure or the stress to have to fit in specific trainings on day one, if they know that they can go to them again on day two. And, another thing those training classrooms can get packed, we all know that. But if we take the people who really don't need the training, but they're just going to it for the sake of going to it, because they have nothing else to go to out of the room, you know, that should keep just the people who need the training in there, and let the other people go and learn on best practices and other stuff.

So, we're looking closely at that. It's another one of those things where I don't want to jinx myself because we're not quite there yet. The big hurdle on it is making sure the rooms match up and we can fit all that out. So that may not work out. But everybody should know that we're taking all this feedback seriously. And we're trying to provide a new and better experience every year. 

Cheryl Fleming: And I'm guessing that the UC piece will happen on the last day like it typically does on that Friday morning? 

Daren Worcester: The Unconference piece will—yes, it will be on that last day. As you probably are very well aware, the Unconference is a love it or hate it thing with many people. We have a lot of people that love it that say it's the absolute best part of the conference for them. And then there's others that really kind of want to have a planned out day and want to know what's going to happen.

So for people who aren't familiar, we should probably explain it—jumping right in here. The Unconference is exactly what it sounds like. There's no pre-planned sessions. So all the attendees go through the first couple of days. And maybe there's a subject or a session that they were in that they were really into, but it kind of ended before they got to really explore this topic further, so there's more questions they have about it. So they want to talk more so they would propose that topic as an Unconference session and then people who are interested in it or people have experienced in it that they can share will kind of go to that session and they would all have a good powwow on it.

Vice versa, if there's somebody that has done something really good at their school, really interesting, and they want to share that, and maybe they didn't get into the speaker session before, but they just wanted to have an ad-hoc session, they would submit that topic as an Unconference. So we all get together in the morning, we throw the topics up on the board, and then we divide them out into rooms.

So, the Unconference is still on, but we are working on a few ideas, a few other options for other things to go on concurrently. For some people who may not be digging the Unconference, there might be an alternative or two for them. 

Cheryl Fleming: So our folks are people who are in the "love the Unconference camp." As a matter of fact, when we're deciding who's going to attend, one of the things I tell them is, you can't leave early. You have to stay for the Unconference because that's where we've picked up a lot of super meaningful and helpful recommendations and tips. We've implemented several things that we picked up from last year's Unconference and are using them now. 

Daren Worcester: Yeah, and the great thing about the Unconference is sort of the rule of mobility and that everybody's experience is going to be different. You may pick to go into one session, and it's just brilliant, it's providing you great information. Whereas someone else may go into a session that they thought was going to be on-topic for them, and they find that they weren't really interested or it wasn't really helpful for them. They can get up and leave. Nobody's offended if you walk out in the middle of an Unconference session. So, you know, that is the beauty of it. 

Cheryl Fleming: Absolutely. 

Daren Worcester: All right. So, we're going to have a couple of guests, as I mentioned before coming on from LA schools. I will introduce them in a second when we bring them on, so how about we bring them in and see what they have to say? 

Cheryl Fleming: Sounds good. 

Daren Worcester: Cheryl, we now have the pleasure of being joined by Jim, director of technology at the Windward School, and Lisa Taylor, the director of communications at Berkeley Hall School. Jim and Lisa, thanks for joining us, and welcome to the podcast.

Lisa Taylor: Thanks, Daren. Nice to be here. 

Jim Bologna: Yes. Thank you, Daren. 

Daren Worcester: Excellent. So, you both are conference veterans, I believe, and let's start by having each of you tell us a little bit about yourselves and your roles. 

Lisa Taylor: Okay, I'll go, I am at Berkeley Hall School and director of communications. Been there about 17 years. Wow, it's been that long. You know, just really love what was WhippleHill and now Blackbaud. I am such a fan and have always been a big fan of the UCs and getting people charged up about the idea of it. So a long time UC-er and longtime user of the product. 

Daren Worcester: Excellent. Jim, How about yourself? 

Jim Bologna: Sure. I'm the director of technology and the co-director of our Center for Teaching and Learning at Windward School, and I've been at this school for 15 years. I've used Blackbaud throughout that time. And then in my prior school, I used it for another five or six years. So a long time user and very happy to see the migration into WhippleHill and all the new versions with onRecord and the new SIS and everything. 

Cheryl Fleming: Sounds like both of you are user conference veterans having been to many of the events, what would you say you enjoy most about those? 

Jim Bologna: I would say, having the conference be focused on K–12 folks, and being able to talk to Blackbaud people in that context where they're focused specifically on you, probably one of the best aspects of the conference. Plus, you also get to talk to a whole bunch of other schools who are very much in the same boat as you are, and that is pretty invaluable. 

Lisa Taylor: Yeah, I would definitely agree with that. I think having the focus on K–12 is fabulous. But one of the things that I enjoy most, I think, really is networking with other schools and every mealtime you're sitting at a table and you can either do it by subject matter or module that you're working in or just getting best practices and tips and tricks from other people who are actually using the software, aside from all the expertise of the Blackbaud folks—that has been invaluable over the years because we've actually joined up with other members in the Los Angeles area that are Blackbaud users, and we're in communication all the time. We have a listserv together, and we're back and forth and asking each other questions. So we've kind of built our own network of communication and help—kind of a support system with each other, and that came from the UC. 

Cheryl Fleming: That's outstanding. So, for both of you, Jim and Lisa, what is the one essential item that you can't forget to pack when attending the User Conference? 

Lisa Taylor: An extra jacket? [Laughing] It's always freezing. The rooms are freezing. I don't know what it is about conference centers, hotels—

Cheryl Fleming: They want to keep everybody awake. 

Lisa Taylor: I don't know. It's freezing. I've been a presenter year after year and like I have to take my jacket off to be up in the front of the room and do the—it's like, as soon as I'm done, I'm putting the down coat back on. Like, seriously, and maybe that's just me, I don't know, but I would say, an extra layer of warmth. I would even go so far as to say bring a pair of gloves or little booties because it's cold. 

Cheryl Fleming: Jim, you're not allowed to say a jacket or something to keep you warm, you have to choose another item.

Jim Bologna: Okay, I'm actually going to choose an electronic item, I would say a note-taking app. My favorite is Google Keep. Because you can put that on pretty much any electronic device you happen to have. I end up taking so many spot notes here and there that having something that I can easily just pop open and write something down because you're going to forget all the great stuff you hear as you move to your next session. 

Lisa Taylor: Absolutely. And you know what, I have oftentimes forgotten my extension cord to power up my computer or my iPad when I've gone into the conferences. And I would say bring a means of charging that you can extend to a distance because there are times when the only seat is in the middle of the room, and the plug that you need to use to charge your devices far away. And you want to be able to take notes while you're in the room. I tend to do it in email, and I just email it to myself so it's in the cloud, and I know that sounds a little bit archaic, but that way I'm emailing myself and my teammates back on campus at the same time live as we're going, and for whatever reason that's kind of worked for us.

Cheryl Fleming: About five of us attend. We take—all of us will create Google Docs, and so we collaborate and share almost in real-time as well.

Daren Worcester: The collaboration is great and I would say in fairness to Lisa, I was just reading through before—earlier this morning, I was rereading through the feedback from last year's conference—and there were a lot of people who said turn up the heat. So it's not something—I don't think we really have much control over, the facility manages that, but bringing layers is definitely a good travel tip for the conference. 

Lisa Taylor: Trust me, I have gotten to be friends with the HVAC people at each hotel. I spy them out, I find them and I say please, please, please just up the heat. Being in LA it is kind of a warmer climate and those coming from colder climates will come and go, "Oh my gosh, it's balmy, it's wonderful." But when you're inside the hotel, not so much. 

Daren Worcester: There's always different hotel quirks that are going to happen or things that are going to happen. I think it was a couple years ago I was presenting and when I was on stage they were testing like the mic in the main room that was near there. So I moved to a certain spot on stage and all sudden it made like musical sounds came through our microphone and our room. It was really, really weird. So moving on, the conference this year is being held at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Jim, what can you tell us about traveling in and out of there? Is LAX the best airport for people to plan to go to?

Jim Bologna: That's a really good question. The downtown area for those who haven't been to LA is not nearby an airport so LAX is the major airport that's close by. I'd say the secondary airport is the Burbank airport. They're both going to be about the same travel time, which in LA is hugely variable. [Laughing] When I mapped it a few minutes ago it was about 25 to 30 minutes from either location. Last night it was telling me over an hour, so it really depends a lot on where you're coming from. But if you're coming from LA, there's the LAX flyaway bus that will take you to Union Station. And there's also the Pacific Surfliner from Burbank that will also take you to Union Station and it's a quick Uber ride from Union Station. So if you're a fan of public transport, that's probably the better way to go.

Lisa Taylor: And I would say if you have the ability to fly into Burbank and you're, you know, as far as cost or convenience of time and that sort of thing. Burbank is such a more manageable airport, it's much much smaller, it has less traffic, it's much easier to get in and out of even with public transportation, so if that is an option for you, I would definitely go for that. LAX is packed, and getting in and out of there can be just time-consuming—not challenging just time-consuming.

Jim Bologna: Right, and just to make it even more difficult, they've decided to start a construction—multi-year construction project. So...

Lisa Taylor: Oh joy. [Laughing]

Daren Worcester: It's nice of them to welcome us with that. So from the various airports, is a cab slash Uber slash Lyft the best bet or is it train or bus? How should people plan for that?

Jim Bologna: I would say that it depends on if you're a fan of public transportation. If you are, I would highly recommend that because you could spend an hour in that cab or Uber and we know the minutes aren't cheap there.

Lisa Taylor: I think it just depends on what your comfort level is. When you get to the airport, you can just check an Uber and Lyft and see what the cost is going to be. And if you're carpooling, you can, you know, bring the cost down. That may be an option for you if it's something that you feel comfortable with. The public transportation in LA is what it is, you know, you, you just kind of look it up on the system and you see what's going to be the best way to go. And as Jim said, getting down to Union Station, it's a quick hop from there to the Bonaventure. So I don't know if the hotel provides any kind of a shuttle. A lot of times hotels do provide shuttles. I don't know if the downtown hotels are apt to do that. It's mostly the ones that are local to the airport that are doing that. So probably Uber and Lyft are going to be your best bet.

Daren Worcester: Okay, with Uber and Lyft, are they both used evenly? Is there one that's more predominant in the LA area, or can people use either just fine?

Lisa Taylor: I would say either. What's your sense, Jim?

Jim Bologna: I would agree with that.

Lisa Taylor: There are a lot of people driving Uber and Lyft here. It is the way to go. I don't really see many cabs around and mostly see Uber and Lyft. And the LAX now has a new system in how you're getting them—you're sort of taken to an area that has all of the Uber and Lyft people waiting so you're not waiting at the terminal right there, you go to an area where all of them are sitting. So it's actually a pretty quick system now.

Cheryl Fleming: Let's switch and go to dining—that's one of my favorite parts. [Laughing] Well, it's not just the food, it's also connecting with folks that oftentimes, I'm just meeting for the first time and we want to talk about something that was brought up at the conference or some similar issues that we might be experiencing. But one question I have is what are your top choices for dining out within walking distance of the hotel?

Jim Bologna: Yeah, so that area, I've been to a couple of conferences. I actually was at a conference at the Bonaventure about four months ago, so I got to experience the area a little bit. And one of my favorite places for Italian was Drago Centro, which is on Flower, a couple of blocks south of the Bonaventure. That was a lot of fun, very open. The other place that I really enjoyed was called Perch and that is a little bit east, probably about four blocks on Hill Street. It's a rooftop French bistro. So I think in July, how could you beat that?

Lisa Taylor: That sounds fabulous. I don't really have recommendations for downtown. I'm going to be more the recommendation for if you're spending a few extra days in LA either before or after the conference, going out of downtown and getting out to the ocean and that kind of thing. I'll chime in when we get to that part. 

Cheryl Fleming: Well, let's go to that part now, Lisa, sounds like a good time to do it. 

Lisa Taylor: I was just talking with somebody who had been to LA in the last couple years with her son and hadn't been to LA before. And she said she took the Legends of Hollywood Tour and it was about a four-hour tour. She said there was a small group of people. The van driver, tour guide was very funny and engaging. She said it was probably the best thing she did to just get the lay of the land. Go to those high-point tourist attractions that you want to see, but you don't want to spend a lot of time.

And so when they went to sort of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Mann Theater where they have the footprints and the handprints in the sidewalk, they got out of the van, and they spent about an hour there, but they didn't have to deal with all the logistics of finding it, getting there, doing all of that. They went to the Hollywood sign, they went to the big sort of tourist attractions, they did tours of some of the big stars homes, that kind of thing.

But it was a four-hour, all-in-one tour, they hit the high points, and that was kind of out of the way plus they got a sense of the area. And then they were able to do things like Venice Beach, or going to Disney Land or going on a studio tour at Universal Studios or going down to the marketplace and those kinds of things that you'd want to go with friends or people that you've just met at the UC and spend a little bit more time together.

She highly recommended that tour and said that it was, you know, very reasonable price wise and a really good use of time and getting to know the area.

Cheryl Fleming: Jim, any thoughts about restaurants a little bit further out if people wanted to find a place for dinner?

Jim Bologna: Hmm, that's a good question. I would say if you head south on Figueroa, about six or seven blocks, you end up at the L.A. Live complex. That is a fabulous place to go. You're going to find, you know, seven or eight restaurants and a bunch of other things in the area. It's sort of an outdoor mall style complex connected to the Staples Center. I would definitely recommend going there.

If you don't mind doing a Uber trip, one of my favorite places in the downtown area is called Cole's French Dip. There's a, you know, ongoing war about where the original French dip sandwich started in LA, and Cole's is one of the ones that is in the contention for it. So French dip there is pretty good. They have this bar in the back that's very much like a speakeasy where you have to go through a wooden panel hidden door and they've got signature cocktails and stuff like that so it's a lot of fun.

Lisa Taylor: If you want to get kind of out of downtown, which, you know, I think if you've spent sort of time in the UC and you're in downtown, getting out to the west side, getting out to the ocean, getting some views along the beach, though this one isn't a view along the beach and it's a tiny little place. It's on Wilshire Boulevard, about 25 blocks up from the beach, around 25th Street. It's on Harvard and Wilsher. It's called Milo & Olive and they have fabulous wood-fired pizza, they have pastas, they have some vegan dishes, they have pastries, it's like everything they make is amazing. It's an incredible atmosphere. The staff is wonderful. I'm just such a fan. We go there actually twice a week. My husband and I it's like we cannot get enough of this place. So that's called Milo & Olive.

If you are downtown and you're vegan or raw vegan, there's a place called Au Lac, the chef there actually doesn't speak. He vowed silence years ago, and all of the energy that he would have put into speaking, he puts into the food. It is the most incredible raw vegan food I have ever had. And I'm not raw vegan, but I experienced it. I had like a shrimp tempura, it was like, "Wait, this is raw and vegan? How is that possible?" They looked like shrimp. It's incredible. It really is art in food. So if you are at all interested in that kind of cuisine, Au Lac is the name of the restaurant and I highly recommend it for that level of raw vegan.

Cheryl Fleming: Now, I don't want people to think that I don't really work when I get to the conference. But quick question now, let's shift from food to entertainment. What kind of things would you recommend close to the hotel if you're looking for entertainment?

Jim Bologna: I already mentioned L.A. Live. A couple of other places that are very close—I would say Skyspace LA. That's say about two blocks from the Bonaventure. It's an observation deck and a glass slide that goes outside at the observation level. That's pretty spectacular. Also, The Broad Museum is nearby. I would definitely recommend doing the Broad if you've got some time, but I also would recommend that you get your tickets about 30 days out, they don't open—

Lisa Taylor: I was just gonna say that. You definitely want a reservation if you want to get to the Broad, and I'm with Jim, I would highly recommend the Broad they always have really interesting exhibitions. And you may not even know what's going to be exhibited when we have the UC but I would say go ahead and make the reservation and get your reservation early so that you can be sure to get in there.

Jim Bologna: Yes, but also make sure like you can't go now because they won't open until about 45 days before. So set a calendar reminder for 30 days out from the conference. Go grab your tickets then.

Daren Worcester: Cheryl, I would also say for baseball fans, I did look into the Dodgers schedule and they are unfortunately out of town during—during the conference week, but I think they're in town the weekend before. So if there are people that are planning sort of Fourth of July trips around the conference, if they're heading in before that's something they may be able to do.

Lisa Taylor: And you know, Disneyland is not that far away, though it feels like it might be a jaunt. There are ways to get there. And if you're in town ahead of time, Fourth of July, and the fireworks and that kind of thing at Disneyland is always—if you haven't been there before, and you are coming with the family, that is definitely something, and the Universal City Tour, again, is not that far up north from downtown, easily accessible by public transportation. And they have the tour and they have the City Walk, which is kind of open-air, lots of restaurants, lots of street performers all in this one area, and lots of activities. And they also have kind of I don't remember what they call it that where you do skydiving in the tube. So they have that fly high or whatever it is—they have that there. There are all sorts of activities at the Universal City Walk. So that's kind of one place.

And then there's also the downtown market. It's kind of an open-air market, but it's also connected to lots of shops and lots of shopping around there. So that's also very quick, public transportation away from downtown.

Jim Bologna: I would second that because my daughter loves Disneyland. But we also have been to Universal a ton of times. And if you're going to come in early as a strategy, I would go stay nearby either of those locations, and then spend some time there. Disneyland has Disneyland and California Adventure. 

Lisa Taylor: That's right, yeah.

Jim Bologna: We've spent two days there pretty easily. And there's a wide range of hotels from more expensive hotels to you know, some very inexpensive ones that are walking distance. So, you know, I would actually think about going there for a couple of days, stay there and then come to downtown. 

Lisa Taylor: And we can't talk about LA without talking about Disney Hall—I mean Frank Gehry's architecture. If you don't get to go to a concert there, absolutely go and take a tour of the architecture because that's stunning. But the acoustics in Disney Hall are unmatched, unparalleled by any other venue. I mean, it's really an incredible experience. So no matter where the seat is, if you're up in the third balcony, way in the back, the acoustics are the same as if you're down in the orchestra. So I would highly recommend, I don't know what's playing during the UC but I would highly recommend that and since it's summertime, the Hollywood Bowl, which is the outdoor concert arena, really is a spectacular place to experience a concert and they do a lot of Fourth of July fireworks to music. That would be a stunning thing to do while you're here in LA if you're here ahead of time.

Daren Worcester: So, one thing I just have to ask because Jim did touch on LA's notorious traffic earlier. Lisa, when you say that Disney World and Universal aren't that far away. In context, how far is not that far away to you?

Lisa Taylor: Well, Disneyland as opposed to Disney World—Disney World, Florida. [Laughing] Disneyland, that's okay—it would be a long track to Disney World from here, but Disneyland from downtown...what would that be? 40 minutes maybe with no traffic? Is that about right, Jim?

Jim Bologna: In between 30 and 40 minutes. 

Lisa Taylor: Yeah, 30 and 40 minutes. So it's really pretty much a straight shot. And honestly, though I haven't done the research on the public transport in that regard. I think there would be a way to get there. And if not, you can always Uber or Lyft it and it wouldn't be that bad. It would be worth it. 

Jim Bologna: Universal, I'd say, is probably 25 minutes depending on—again, no traffic.

Lisa Taylor: Yeah.

Jim Bologna: It's a little closer.

Lisa Taylor: Yeah, I mean, you can do a subway up to Universal too. So if you get from the hotel over to Central Station or Union Station, you can take a subway up to Universal, so that's a little bit more accessible with public transport that Disneyland is—Disneyland is a freeway away. 

Jim Bologna: Yeah. 

Daren Worcester: Gotcha. Thank you. So you guys have been spitballing giving some great recommendations for places that people can go and things to check out. I kind of roughed out a question to ask you about diamond-in-the-rough, off-the-beaten-path suggestions, is there anything else you can think of? Or have you guys covered it?

Lisa Taylor: Well, we didn't talk about The Queen Mary. We didn't talk about Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier. I mean, those are kind of big highlights of the LA area. You definitely have to get down to Venice Beach. You gotta see the guy juggling the chainsaw. I mean, come on, the chainsaw and the bowling ball. You know, there are all of these street performers along Venice Beach—a little bit more on the weekend, and particularly during the summer when the tourists are out. And you can rent a bike, you can rent—oh what do they call the things that go when you lean forward? 

Daren Worcester: Segways.

Lisa Taylor: Segway, thank you. You can rent Segways and go up and down Venice Beach on Segways. You can rent scooters, they have the BladeZ and the greens and the Lime's and the—I don't know all the different ones— the Bird? They have all those scooters that are just left on the side of the road and you just put in some money and take them around and people love those.

So, Venice Beach I would say is maybe not a diamond in the rough but it's definitely an attraction that you want to go to. Santa Monica Pier is a blast because it's got the amusement park rides, but it's very contained. If you want to, you can rent a fishing pole and fish off the end of the pier. If that's your thing, or just walk up and down the beach. The beaches are really stunning. 

Jim Bologna: I was gonna say it's very walkable from Venice Beach. If you've got like an hour, you can just walk up from there to the pier. And then you can have dinner on the water up there if you want to.

Lisa Taylor: Yeah, there are all sorts of restaurants and as you do that walk, I'm glad Jim mentioned that because we actually have done that a lot with the family. You'll walk by what used to be known as Muscle Beach, which is now where you'll see different apparatus, you know, high bars and low bars and rope climbs and that kind of thing. And you'll see people come out there with something called a slackline and they'll let you go on a slackline. And there will be these experts who are jumping up and down on this little two-inch-wide piece of strap, and like tightrope walking. But if you're just an observer, and they'll let you try it, so that's just kind of a novel thing that a lot of people don't know is there. But if you're out on the weekend, and you're walking up and down Venice Beach, definitely stop by Muscle Beach and check that out. 

Jim Bologna: Yeah, so the other thing I love to do, and again, it's I don't know that I would call it a diamond in the rough, but The Getty Center, which is up Sepulveda and up the 405. So it's a little, again, a little bit of a travel to get there. You can do public transportation, probably a couple of connections to get you over there. And then you take a tram that takes you up to the top and you have spectacular views of the LA basin and the ocean. But it's also a really amazing museum with a whole bunch of buildings. You know, some restaurants like a cafe where you can eat and sit out and enjoy the weather and some gardens you can walk through. It's pretty spectacular.

Lisa Taylor: And they have concerts in the evenings during the summer. I mean, you have to check the schedule. But that's really lovely. You're out on this grass lawn, and it's sort of an outdoor concert. And they a lot of times have activities for kids in the museum. So the Getty is definitely a high point, for sure.

And hiking. I mean, there are so many hikes in LA. There are fire roads all over the place, obviously, because we need that but those become hiking trails. And so there are all these hikes all over the place. And I'm sure if you go on the website and sort of state parks, you can get maps and things and just figure out the Nike tower is one of the hikes where you go down into Mandeville Canyon and I may be getting a little bit too detailed here, but just remember the Nike Tower hike.

If you are interested in that come and find me at the UC or email me and I'm happy to give you information about where to go. It's about an hour and 15, hour and a half hike. It's a five-mile loop. It's up and down. You get definitely get a good workout. So after sitting for a few days, you might want to get a good hike in. 

Daren Worcester: Lisa, now you're talking my language.

Lisa Taylor: [Laughing] And mountain biking. I mean, that's the other thing. One of my coworkers actually is an avid mountain biker, and I'm sure he could hook us up or hook anybody up with a place to rent a mountain bike. And he would probably be thrilled to take any group of people out on a mountain bike trail because he used to do that kind of thing. So he's an avid mountain biker. 

Jim Bologna: I was just thinking, there are a couple of other museum clusters that I would recommend, too. If you go a little south, you hit the Natural History Museum and the Science Center. Those are super fun, and you've got outdoor gardens there as well that you can walk around, and then if you go west, you hit for me it's sort of like the cluster that has the La Brea Tar Pits and LACMA and the Petersen Automotive Museum. So if you've got a variety of people with you, or kids who have different interests—

Lisa Taylor: And LACMA being the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. 

Jim Bologna: Thank you.

Lisa Taylor: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, LACMA's great, absolutely, and the tar pits are kind of novel and fun for the kids and you can see the big beasts that fell into the pit and—

Jim Bologna: Dinosaurs. I mean, which kid doesn't love dinosaurs? If you're bringing a couple of kids, then at least one of them is going to want to see the cars at the Petersen museum.

Cheryl Fleming: I feel like we've gotten a ton of great dos, not only for adults but also for kids. Any places we should avoid—anything overrated.

Lisa Taylor: Well, we didn't mention the overrated things I don't think, did we? [Laughing]

Jim Bologna: Actually, the funny thing, I think you sort of covered it. I feel like that area with the Hollywood Walk of Fame is a little overrated, but I like the tip of doing it as part of a tour package. So you don't spend a ton of time there because you have to see the sign, you know, if you're going to do that, but you really don't have to spend a ton of time doing it. 

Lisa Taylor: Yeah, and the other thing I would say is if you are coming with the family, the Hollywood Walk of Fame is in an area of town where your children will be seeing people they probably haven't seen before. It may not feel the safest. It's fun, and it's all fine during the day, but your children might be exposed to sights and sounds that you may not feel as comfortable, I would just be alert to that. So doing it in a tour context, as Jim said, is probably a little bit safer way to go in that respect. 

Jim Bologna: And actually thinking along those lines, I know, you know, homeless is a problem across the country, LA has more than its fair share of it. A lot of folks like to go to conferences—I know it's one of the things I do all the time, I'll go to a conference and I'll spend a lot of time walking the area. And that's certainly very doable in the downtown area. But as it gets darker, I would consider, you know, if you're going to go for that dinner, maybe walk to the dinner and then Uber back. Definitely leverage Uber and Lyft later on in the evening, you don't want to be walking around too much.

Daren Worcester: Excellent. Good advice. Thank you both. Is there anything else we're not asking or bringing up?

Lisa Taylor: It's probably not going to rain while you're here. So you can leave the umbrella at home? 

Daren Worcester: Is that a guarantee? 

Lisa Taylor: It's not a guarantee. [Laughing] But if there is an earthquake, which there probably won't be, but if there is, don't worry about it. It's not a big deal. You know, it'll shake a little, it's kind of fun and it's over. You can even just stay in bed. I mean, it's really not a big deal. I'm sure the experts will completely disagree with me.

Daren Worcester: I feel like we might need some sort of disclaimer on the podcast now.

Lisa Taylor: I know. Right, sorry about that. [Laughing] You can just edit me out, Daren.

Jim Bologna: This will be the first time it rains for three days straight. 

Lisa Taylor: Right? Exactly. A little mini El Nino.

Daren Worcester: Excellent. Cheryl, did you have any other questions?

Cheryl Fleming: No, I just have a comment. I think Jim and Lisa should consider going into the travel industry whenever they're done working at their respective schools. [Laughing]

Lisa Taylor: Definitely bring your bathing suit. We never said anything about swimming, bring your bathing suit. The ocean is amazing. And they're big waves, you can body surf. And you could take a surf lesson if you've never surfed, now's your chance.

Daren Worcester: Excellent. So there will be a signup sheet in the lobby for Jim and Lisa Tours. [Laughing] First come first serve.

Cheryl Fleming: Well, I have one final thought that I'd like to share in terms of once you get there I've really encouraged people to, especially when they come in groups with folks they already know. Get out, meet some new people. Don't always sit with your own group at breakfast, consider making dinner reservations with some folks you don't know or maybe merging folks you don't know what the folks you do know and going out in a big group because they are so much value in making those connections.

Lisa Taylor: Definitely. And you know, one of the things that I would recommend because having done the UCs and those who do conferences, a lot know this, but do your research on the restaurants before the UC and make reservations many days ahead. So that when you do meet the new friends at lunchtime and you want to go to dinner, you've already got the reservation, you can already say to the group, Listen, I've got a reservation for 15 over here at this place, they already know we're coming. You'll be so much happier, having pre-planned some of that, at least for the first night so that you're not scrambling at the last minute along with everybody else trying to get into a restaurant. That's great advice. Yeah, I would just recommend doing it a little bit ahead of time, you be the leader, and you make the reservation and if you end up not using it, that's fine. You can always cancel but at least you have something and then you can invite the group with you. So be the leader and go make that reservation. That would be my recommendation.

Jim Bologna: I would definitely agree with that. And I know Lisa, you mentioned before about you know making sure that you sit with different people at lunches. I think that's a great suggestion. Also take advantage of the networking reception, pop in and talk to people. And just make it a goal to talk to folks from other schools and find out where they are on this stuff that they're working on. And you'll probably find people with, you know, very common interests that you'll want to invite to dinner and have a longer conversation with.

Daren Worcester: Jim, I'm really glad you mentioned the network reception because the plan is for it to be on the outside patio, so long as Lisa's prediction that it doesn't rain comes true.

Lisa Taylor: Yes, yes. No. Yeah. I mean, that's one thing that's wonderful about LA you can make plans to be outdoors. And you know, 98 percent of the time, you're fine. So unlike New England when the weather changes every five minutes, and I'm allowed to say that because I grew up just south of Boston, so I am a bicoastal person in that way.

Daren Worcester: If it rains, I'm quickly deleting this podcast so we get rid of all evidence. [Laughing]

Jim Bologna: We'll be recording a second version...

Lisa Taylor: It doesn't rain in July. It's good. 

Daren Worcester: Excellent. I should also mention that all the great suggestions that you guys have made for restaurants and stuff for people that subscribe to the podcast and maybe aren't looking at the blog post. We'll put links to all those so you'll have some quick links in the blog post. So you may want to come to our Hub to check that out. But overall, this has been awesome. Jim, Lisa, Cheryl, thank you all for joining us on the podcast today, I really appreciate it.

Cheryl Fleming: Thank you for having me.

Lisa Taylor: Thanks, Daren, it's great to be here. 

Jim Bologna: Yeah, thank you for having us.

Daren Worcester: And for everybody listening, thank you as well. I hope you come and check out the conference this summer. We'll have the link available for you in the blog as well and we hope to see you there.


About the Author

Daren Worcester

Daren Worcester has been a member of the Blackbaud K-12 team for 17 years, assisting hundreds of independent schools through a variety of website development roles. A former copywriter and a published author with an appetite for SEO, Daren currently serves as the senior content marketing manager for K-12.

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